on 10 March 2004
A confident, compelling text, Africa Works ambitiously attempts to establish a new paradigm in African political science. Based on neo-Weberian principles, Chabal and Daloz attack much contemporary political analysis as being misguided by false assumptions.
That is, if we are to assume that development can only take place in a Western manner, we will conclude that Africa is failing. This outlook will prevent us from understanding what is really taking place in Africa, and blind us to what they see as a 'African modernity'.
They argue that Africa is modern without being Western, and that to understand the African rationalities, we must detach ourselves from ethnocentric assumptions and use universal Weberian analytical tools to see the world from the perspective of the African. We can then see how apparently chaotic and irrational processes like 'corruption' are actually logical and even profitable strategies for exploiting resources.
Perhaps a problem with this approach is that it fails to show how uncertainty and corruption are highly destructive for the individuals within these socieities; it seems questionable that ostentatious spending on behalf of a corrupt leader can ever be justified in a nation of intense and deepening impoverishment.
Overall, this is a thought-provoking and interesting text. It is expressed clearly and persuasively, and its criticisms of modernisation theory etc are particularly astute. However, if one hopes to maintain any kind of optimism, it is difficult to agree with the conclusion, which seems to leave little room for future African prosperity.